Read John 4:1–26.
No matter what our real-world problems may be, whether our emotions rise to the surface as sorrow, anger, or determination—even if we stuff them down and don’t let them rise at all—we’re all longing for the same thing. We’re all nursing the same wound. We’re all trying to recover from the same incalculable injury. In the beginning, we lost the love we were created for.
When Adam and Eve crunched down on that forbidden fruit, the joy of creation gave way to fear, that old serpent Satan took up his stolen position as the accuser of God’s people, and every sort of division imaginable began chipping away at the burgeoning human race. But there was a consequence greater still: we lost our home with our Father.
God hasn’t abandoned us, and He’s never stopped loving us. Rather, sin has cut us off from experiencing that love in its fullness. As a result, we look to regain the wholeness we were made for in other things—the security of having lots of money in the bank, the purpose our careers assign to us, and the love and acceptance of other people. Our original enemy, the devil, stands at the ready to convince us that these will fulfill us and permit us back into Eden. He doesn’t ever want us to discover the love our hearts were designed to know. But that’s precisely the love Jesus came to reveal.
In John 4, Jesus comes to Samaria to offer that love to the most unlikely of vessels: a certain Samaritan woman. She’s there at the well to collect water at noontime, the warmest part of the day. She’s chosen to come when none of the other women from town would be there. She wants to avoid their accusing eyes, their passing glances of judgment. She’d rather be alone. But she’s not. Jesus, a Jewish man, is sitting there ready to talk.
Of course, Jews don’t normally talk to Samaritans, and Jewish men don’t ordinarily talk to women who aren’t their wives or close relatives. But there Jesus is, and He’s offering her living water, “welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). At first. she pushes this offer away. Even if she could believe Him, He doesn’t know the kind of life she’s led.
But actually, He does.
Jesus reveals He knows more about this Samaritan woman’s past than is naturally possible: “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband” (v. 18). We don’t know why her track record with marriage is so bumpy and broken, but since women had less social power than men in those days, it’s likely she’s seen her share of emotional abuse over the years. Jesus does not condemn her or shame her; He offers her what her soul really longs for: intimacy with the Father.
As many of us might do when confronted with our shame, she changes the subject to something else—of all things, temple worship: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem” (v. 20).
In the Old Testament, the temple was heaven invading earth. It was God staking out a small bit of territory in this world so that His people could come close, just as Adam and Eve had done in the garden. Yes, it took the blood of animals for sinful humans to draw near, but temple worship was still communion with the Lord, a taste of what our souls long for way down deep.
The mountain the Samaritan woman mentions is Mount Gerizim, its rising peak visible from where she and Jesus are talking. It was upon Gerizim that Moses pronounced blessings upon the people before they entered the promised land (Deuteronomy 11:29–30), and in the Samaritan version of the Abraham story, it was also to Gerizim, not to the region of Moriah, that the patriarch went to sacrifice Isaac. And so, Mount Gerizim became the Samaritans’ most holy site. It’s where they built their temple and worshiped Yahweh. Their edition of the Ten Commandments even prescribed Gerizim as the proper place of worship for the faithful. But about a hundred and fifty years before Jesus sat down by Jacob’s well, Jews conquered Samaria and burned the temple on Gerizim to the ground. A conversation between a Jewish rabbi and a Samaritan woman about where to worship could be a touchy one.
Jesus doesn’t ever take His eyes off of the Samaritan Woman’s heart. He knows what she truly longs for deep down. It’s what she was trying to find in all those broken relationships and what she’s still asking for with her question about temple locations. He tells her, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23).
To worship in the Spirit is to worship all the time and any time, wherever we are. It’s only possible because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, who lives within those who follow Christ. We no longer need to travel to a temple, whether in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim. God is with us all the time. To worship in truth is to know the Father as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. It is worship that grows sweeter the longer we walk with Him, because as we do, we get to see more of the Lord’s holy beauty.
To worship in Spirit is to invite God into the ups and downs of daily life, to never be alone again. To worship in truth is to stand in the brilliance of His glory and be shaped by His love. This sort of worship is a restoration of Eden. We have access to the Father at all hours, day and night, just like Adam and Eve. And we get to know Him as He truly is. He shares Himself with us, just as He did with our first parents in the garden.
We were made to experience the love of God. In worship, we get back to first things. We get back to the warm embrace of our heavenly Father. We get to know Him and be truly known. It’s what our hearts have always longed for.